Though it was widely assumed that Andrew McCutchen would take over in center field this season for San Francisco, it is being reported by ESPN that the Giants are interested in signing free agent Mississippian Jarrod Dyson and bumping the newly acquired McCutchen to a corner spot. Former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout Dyson is an outstanding defender who batted .251 with 28 steals for Seattle in 2017. … Having gone four years without a postseason at-bat in Cincinnati, Zack Cozart surely improved his chances of a 2018 playoff appearance by signing with the Los Angeles Angels as a free agent last month. As the Ole Miss product tells it (to mlb.com), “It’s tough to beat playing with Joey Votto, but now I’m going to the Angels and probably the best player in the world (Mike Trout) is on the team, and I played against Albert (Pujols) early on when he was on the Cardinals, so I know how good he can be.” Cozart will join fellow newcomers Shohei Ohtani and Ian Kinsler on a loaded Angels club that could challenge Houston in the American League West. … Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout who won 17 games for Boston in 2017, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a 1-year, $8.5 million contract last week. Also signing pre-arbitration deals were former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton ($4.6M with Cincinnati) and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson ($5.9M with Tampa Bay). … Ex-Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman has yet to reach an agreement with Oakland; he asked for $2.6M, the team offered $2.36M. … Columbia High product Ti’Quan Forbes is among a group of Chicago White Sox hitters gathered in Arizona this week for a mini-camp. Forbes, a second-round pick by Texas in 2014, was acquired by the ChiSox in a trade last summer. A 21-year-old third baseman/shortstop, Forbes is batting .242 for his pro career but hit 11 home runs in A-ball last season. … Worth noting (and reading): mlbtraderumors.com is now publishing installments of Tim Dillard’s “The Inner Monologue of @DimTillard.” The former Itawamba Community College star and onetime big leaguer, who is still an active pitcher in Milwaukee’s minor league system, is quite the entertaining fellow, as you’ll find from reading his posts. The hidden twinkies story is classic.
On Dec. 15, the Los Angeles Angels formally announced the signing of free agent Zack Cozart, the Ole Miss alumnus, to be their third baseman. Three days later, Boston announced that it was re-signing Mitch Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout, to play first base. Since then, there’s been nothing concrete on any of the bundle of other Mississippians looking for a 2018 team. Rumors have connected Lance Lynn to several teams, but as of today the former UM right-hander remains on the free agent market. Same for fellow former Rebels star Seth Smith and McComb native Jarrod Dyson, both outfielders and both coming off fairly productive seasons. Lynn, in particular, would seem to be an attractive piece. He is 72-47 with a 3.18 ERA for his career and has averaged 32 starts a year since 2013, excluding 2016, when he was out with Tommy John surgery. He was 11-8, 3.43 at age 30 last season for St. Louis. Quite a few big-name free agents are also still out there, and once a couple of them sign, the rush could be on. For now, we wait. … David Goforth, another Ole Miss product, signed a minor league contract with Washington in early December, and there are several other state-connected players seeking similar deals. Included are Tyler Moore, Alex Presley, Chris Coghlan, T.J. House, Scott Copeland, Louis Coleman and Joey Butler.
OK, so Dansby Swanson is hitting again. The Atlanta shortstop went 2-for-3 on Saturday and, as The Associated Press dutifully reports, is batting .400 over his last 40 at-bats. But is this just an anomaly? Remember, the ex-Mississippi Braves star hit .302 in 129 MLB at-bats at the end of 2016. He was handed the starting shortstop job to start this season and struggled mightily, so much so that he was sent to the minors in late July. He was only recalled because Johan Camargo, who was playing very well, got hurt. For the year, Swanson is batting .227 with six homers and 42 RBIs. We have seen 13 M-Braves shortstops pass through Trustmark Park these last 13 years on their way to the big leagues, from Luis Hernandez (2005) to Ozzie Albies (2016). The best of the bunch, without question, is Andrelton Simmons, who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in the fall of 2015. Think the Braves’ brass has any seller’s remorse at this point? They should. Simmons is, of course, a Gold Glove-caliber defensive player who has become an offensive force. He blasted a game-winning homer for the Angels on Saturday, his 14th of the year. He is batting .289 (.342 on-base percentage) with 31 doubles, 60 RBIs and 66 runs for a playoff contender. The players Atlanta got from the Angels in the Simmons trade? Erick Aybar, a veteran shortstop, and prospect pitchers Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis. Swanson hadn’t been acquired from Arizona when the Braves made that deal; Albies, who has since moved to second base, was seen as the shortstop of the future. Aybar was a total flop in his short time in Atlanta, and Ole Miss alum Ellis was shipped out in another trade. Newcomb, the prize of the deal, is 2-7 with a 4.36 ERA for the Braves this season. Swanson, a former No. 1 overall pick, may yet prove to be a solid big league shortstop. But it doesn’t appear that he’ll ever surpass Simmons.
Wade Wass first commanded attention at Meridian Community College, where the Florida native crushed 34 homers and hit .400 over two seasons (2011 and ’12). After two unspectacular years at Alabama, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Angels in the summer of 2014. After two seasons in pro ball, the burly catcher (6 feet, 210 pounds) is commanding attention again. Wass has earned a non-roster invitation to the Angels’ big league camp. Scout.com has labeled Wass as “someone the Angels will be forced to take notice of” after a 2015 season that saw him hit .261 with 11 homers and 43 RBIs at two levels of A-ball. He also is reported to have made big strides defensively. Joining Wass as an invitee in the Angels’ Arizona camp will be former Ole Miss star Alex Yarbrough, a second baseman who had a disappointing 2015 season at Triple-A Salt Lake (see previous posts). P.S. A.J. Brown, the two-sport star from Starkville High, has signed with Ole Miss as a wide receiver. Brown, also a center fielder, could be a pro baseball draftee in June. He is one of only two players to ever participate in Under Armour All-America Games for both football and baseball.
Alex Yarbrough has some work to do in 2016. The Ole Miss alum, a highly rated prospect in 2015, has fallen out of the top 30 in Baseball America’s rankings of the Los Angeles Angels’ best minor leaguers. Yarbrough, a switch-hitting second baseman, hit .236 with three homers, 48 RBIs and 56 runs in 128 games at Triple-A Salt Lake City last season, not a disaster but less than what was forecast for the 2014 Texas League player of the year. “It now looks like most of the industry was too high on Yarbrough coming into the 2015 season, when he didn’t make adjustments after struggling at the plate in Triple-A and struck out far too often,” BA’s Bill Mitchell wrote on the magazine’s web site. “That’s a big issue since he’s not a good defensive second baseman (14 errors in 2015) and is a below-average runner (one steal).” Yarbrough, 24, a fourth-round pick by the Angels in 2012, is expected to get another shot in Triple-A this season. Sometimes it takes two tours at the same level for things to click.
Ole Miss product Alex Yarbrough and former Mississippi State star Chris Stratton are among a bushel of mlb.com-rated prospects who could be exposed to next month’s Rule 5 draft. MLB teams must make 40-man roster decisions by 11:59 p.m. EST Friday. Other clubs can draft – and potentially keep (it’s a bit complicated) — eligible players who aren’t protected on a big league roster. Yarbrough, drafted in 2012, had a down year in the Los Angeles Angels’ system, batting .236 with three homers, 48 RBIs and 56 runs in 128 games at Triple-A Salt Lake. The second baseman was the Texas League player of the year in 2014, when he batted .285 with five homers and 77 RBIs at Arkansas. He well could be exposed and not drafted. Stratton, a 6-foot-3 right-hander also drafted in 2012, figures to be protected by San Francisco. The Tupelo native went 4-5 with a 3.86 ERA in 17 starts at Triple-A Sacramento. P.S. Former Hinds Community College star Travious Relaford reportedly has been suspended for 50 games for a drug of abuse violation. Relaford, a 44th-round pick in 2011, played at Class A Augusta in the San Francisco system in 2015, batting .237.
If the reports are true, former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis, a fast-rising pitching prospect, is changing organizations. Ellis is reported to be part of the package the Los Angeles Angels are sending to Atlanta in the eye-opening deal for Andrelton Simmons, the ex-Mississippi Braves shortstop. Erick Aybar, a veteran shortstop, and Sean Newcomb, another pitching prospect, are also said to be joining the Braves. Ellis, a third-round pick by the Angels in 2014, made it to Double-A last summer and handled that key level very well. He was 7-4 with a 3.92 ERA. The 6-foot-4 right-hander started 2015 at Class A Inland Empire, going 4-5, 3.88 before getting the bump to Arkansas. He was rated the No. 9 prospect in the California League by Baseball America.